Tag Archives: New York Times

Can Spot.Us help save news organizations from advertising dependence?

I consider Spot Us, which launched today, to be one of the more important news experiments out there right now.

For those just hearing of it now: The site, dreamed up and guided by the brilliant David Cohn, shares editorial power with the community. It can begin with a story pitch by a journalist, or a news tip from your average resident. Once a story is pitched, the community votes with its wallet on whether or not to write the story. If you believe the story is worthwhile, you offer a small contribution. Once enough money is raised to hire a reporter, the story is written and offered to whatever media would like to use it.

It allows the community to be the assignment editor. The community directly tells you how much value they place on a story based on their own pocketbook.

Do yourself a favor and read far more about it in far better ways at the Spot.Us site, at the Knight Digital Media Center, at the New York Times, and a billion other places.

What makes the concept so important is that it’s a much-needed juke away from the sacred advertising model, the altar to which newspapers have prayed for so long yet is crumbling before us. This isn’t the kind of cosmetic change we’re used to hearing from news organizations trying to reinvent themselves — More blogs! Users can now comment on stories! — this is a turn-everything-upside-down-and-tear-it-all-apart attempt at finding a new business model. Or at least part of one.

Yes, I must add that I have my skepticisms, the ones that probably have immediately stirred in your head. But here’s the fun part: David is aware of these skepticisms, and as far as I know he embraces them. He knows this is an experiment (funded by a Knight News Challenge grant).

It’s part of the evolutionary process that has mostly passed news organizations by. I’ll be watching closely to see what works and what doesn’t. One way or another, we’re going to know more about our future.

TimesPeople: An important first step

TimesPeople will be marked as the beginning of a key revolution in newspaper Web sites.

Not because of what it is — a pretty underwhelming social network based on recommending stories at nytimes.com — but because of the doors it’ll open to a more social experience in consuming news.

Shoving content onto existing social networks isn’t going to save the industry. Newspaper organizations need to focus on becoming the social network.

In addition to the obligatory forums and blogs, the newspaper site will be home to the mingling that’s happening on Facebook or MySpace, the dating that’s happening on Match.com, and the conversation that’s happening on Twitter. It will take the fun and utility of those other sites and infuse them with the one advantage every newspaper has: Local, local, local.

None of that is happening on TimesPeople, an effective recommendation system with few frills, but it does move us in that direction by the all-important step of introducing the reader profile. My profile just has my name, location, and a story I recommended for the sake of trying out the service.

But maybe that profile will expand and enable me to have the headlines I want, from only the categories I want, delivered to that profile page. Maybe all my activity on the site — forum postings, story comments and blog entries — will be displayed on that profile page. Maybe I’ll be able to RSVP to entertainment listings through my profile.

Maybe that profile will expand and enable me to include everything I have in my Facebook profile. Maybe that profile will enable me to declare that I’m single, and to search for other single Times readers.

Maybe that site will incorporate conversational tools, whether it’s wall postings, intra-site messages, instant messaging or microblogging.

The newspaper site will defragment the local Web space, centralizing it around the news product that we desperately need to sell. Meanwhile, it gives the readers the personalization, control and voice that they increasingly need.

When you think about what it could become in the future, TimesPeople seems pretty insignificant right now. But let’s use it as the starting point toward the radical rethinking that every newspaper site really needs.